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Mushroom Polenta as a Lesson in Time Management

I haven’t been posting a whole lot lately.  You know this, I know this, I’m sure whatever government agency monitoring our computers knows this.  And I apologize.  I’ve been very busy lately…well, I thought I was very busy.  Really I was just making bad choices about my priorities.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been running around like a crazy lady, with capoeira, volunteering, starting my business, working, meeting friends and of course spending time with my boo.  Oh and laundry.  Lots of laundry.  But the truth is, in my down time (scarce as it is) I’ve just been sitting on my butt, watching reruns of Food Network shows online and eating WAY too many brownies.  So now it’s back to blogging, meditating, crafting…the good stuff.  More good stuff.

Anywho. Who remember’s Stick Stickly from Nickelodeon?  If you do, you know why I ask.

ANYWHO.  What better way to teach a lesson in time management than baked polenta?  There are several steps and (literally) several pots on the stove, but it’s not as hard as it looks.  And it’s oh so rewarding!  I’ve adapted this recipe for mushroom polenta from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, that lovely book I got for Christmas.  I changed up a few things – adding veggies, changing the cheese, pairing it with a spicy cream tomato sauce – but as we know, recipes are just jumping off points, right?  Right!  Especially with something as versatile as polenta.

Mushroom Polenta with Spicy Cream Tomato Sauce

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 cups water or low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 6-8 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 portobello mushroom, sliced
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • optional: handful of baby spinach (or whatever green you want to put in)
  • splash each low-sodium vegetable stock and red wine
  • 3/4 cup grated smoked provolone or mozzarella
  • 1 28-ounce can low-sodium crushed tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons cream
  • olive oil
  • dried basil and thyme to taste
  • paprika, chili powder and red pepper flakes to taste
  • salt and pepper

This is one of those recipes where you want your mise en place to actually be in place – you’ll have to sautee the veggies, cook the polenta, make the sauce and then bake the finished product.  I’d start by at least cleaning and prepping your mushrooms, plus chopping your onions and garlic.  Remember to remove the gills of your portobello with a spoon!

Then you can start by adding half your onions and garlic to a large sautee pan with some olive oil.  When the onions begin to turn soft and translucent, add your mushrooms, plus a splash of vegetable stock and red wine to help them cook down.  Continue to sautee the vegetables until the mushrooms begin to soften, then add some salt, pepper, basil and thyme to taste (I tend to go a little heavier on the basil).

Toss in some spinach or other green if you want to (or, as I did, some baby romaine I needed to use up – weird, I know, but I’d rather not let it go to waste and I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t mind wilted greens).  Keep turning everything until the greens begin to wilt and the mushrooms and onions are cooked through, then remove from heat and set aside.

While your onions and mushrooms are cooking you can start the polenta by bringing your 3 cups of water or veggie stock to a boil in a large pot.  When it begins to boil, slowly pour in your cornmeal while stirring with a whisk to prevent clumps.  Reduce the heat and simmer the cornmeal uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently – be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so the polenta doesn’t scorch!  Add in a generous pinch of salt, plus some pepper, paprika and maybe a dash of chili powder if that’s your fancy.  When the polenta is thick and the water is absorbed, pour it into a greased 9-inch glass pie dish.

Oh!  Did I mention you should also be making your tomato sauce?  If you want, you can move the mushroom topping mix into a bowl and reuse your sautee pan.  Just add some olive oil and sautee about another quarter of your onion with a couple more cloves of garlic.  When they begin to get soft and translucent, add in your can of crushed tomatoes and season with salt and pepper, plus a good dash of paprika, basil, chili powder and a generous sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes.  Adjust all the seasonings according to how spicy you like things – I like em spicy!  Heck, throw in some oregano if you want.  Simmer the sauce on low heat to marry the flavors and cook off some of the liquid; after about 5-10 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and stir in a tablespoon or so of heavy cream.  Be conservative here – a little cream will go a long way, so add a little bit at a time until it’s to your liking.  Then top your polenta with a thin layer of the sauce.

Next, top the polenta with about half your cheese, then the mushroom mixture, then the rest of your cheese.  Add another sprinkling of pepper if you want, then pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Hit the broiler for a few minutes more, and when the top looks brown and bubbly take it out.  Let it cool a bit, then serve in slices topped with more sauce and a fresh green salad.  I know it’s a lot of juggling, but trust me, you’ll get the hang of it.  Show that mise en place who’s boss!

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Mujaddara Paella?

Look, I don’t mean to brag here, but this dish is a winner.  It started out as mujaddara – a spiced Middle Eastern dish of lentils, rice and onions.  But you know me, and I can’t settle for only grains and protein for dinner.  I have to add as many veggies as I can.  As it happens, I’ve also been hankering for some paella lately (also Spanish rice, which I plan on making with cauliflower – stay tuned!) – not traditional paella, since I don’t eat meat or seafood, but the idea of a paella.  You know, rice and veggies and spices.   The obvious solution is to combine the two, and I must say, it is mighty delicious.  And, as always, healthy!

Mujaddara Paella

  • 3/4 cup lentils (I like red)
  • 1/3 cup basmati or long-grain rice
  • 1 small tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 portobello mushroom cap, sliced
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3-1/2 cup frozen peas
  • about 3 ounces baby spinach
  • olive oil
  • 1/4-1/3 cup red wine
  • pinch of dried sage and thyme
  • chili powder, paprika and red chili flakes
  • salt and pepper

First, soak your rice in water while you get the lentils and veggies going.  Put your lentils on the stove with 1 and 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the water is evaporated and the lentils are tender, about 15-20 minutes.  Turn off the heat, stir in the tomato and let stand, covered, until the other items are done.

Although you should technically soak your rice for about 30 minutes, I usually get impatient and only soak it for about 10 minutes before cooking it.  Like the lentils, stir with 2/3 to 1 cup water and cover, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.  The rice might take a little longer to cook, about 25-30 minutes, until it’s truly tender.  Stir it (and the lentils!) often so nothing sticks to the bottom of your pan and burns.

While your lentils and rice are going, start sauteeing your onions in olive oil.  When they begin to soften and turn translucent, add your garlic and mushrooms.  Wipe the caps with a paper towel to clean and scrape out the gills of the portobello.

Sautee on medium-low heat until the mushrooms start to cook, then add about 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 to 1/3 cup red wine (I just drizzle it in the pot till it looks right – i.e. not a lot of excess wine in the pan), plus a little more olive oil if needed.  Also add some salt, pepper, sage and thyme to taste (just a pinch of the last two, and a healthy sprinkling of the first two).  Stir frequently until the mushrooms really become tender and start to shrink.

At this point, add in your baby spinach and peas, and stir until the spinach begins to wilt.  Take off the heat and add to the lentils, along with a dash of chili powder, a smidge of red pepper flakes if you like heat, and a generous amount of paprika.  Stir together with more salt and pepper, and add the rice whenever it’s ready.  Taste to adjust the seasonings, but remember the flavors will marry more as leftovers.  Then…serve!  Whole grains, protein (in the rice, peas and lentils) and of course vegetables.  My kind of meal and oh so good.  Another one-pot (okay, three-pot) wonder!

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Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos

The first time I had sweet potato black bean tacos was at Watercourse Foods, an awesome vegetarian restaurant here in Denver.  Ever since then I was smitten.  Sweet potatoes?  Spicy food?  What?  Oh yes.

Actually, I’d been thinking about this recipe before I knew Joy the Baker did it, and before I knew there were a slew of variations online.  So you know what?  I’m not going to credit anyone but Watercourse and my own ingenuity.  Sometimes you just have to take what you want!

Let me start by saying two things. One, my usual schpiel about how this recipe is awesome and healthy and vegetarian: nothing but veggies, protein and healthy plant-based fats.  Mega win.  Two, since this was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of recipe (the best kind) I don’t really have exact measurements.  I’ll do my best to estimate things, but it’s hard on spices – I just know what looks right to me.  But I trust you.  You know how to season something “to taste”, don’t you?  Of course you do.  You got this.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos with Cabbage Slaw (serves 3)

  • 1 15-oz. can unsalted black beans
  • 1 large or 2 smallish/medium sweet potatoes
  • about 2 cups red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • about 1/3 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • about 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped (or more…to taste!)
  • 3-4 limes
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 8 small whole wheat tortillas
  • 1 avocado
  • cumin, paprika and chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • sriracha sauce

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and chop your sweet potato(es) into small cubes, about 1/2 inch.  Think of the size of your little taco tortillas when you prepare everything – you want bite-size potatoes that won’t fall out, and thin, short ribbons of cabbage and onion for the slaw.  Toss the potatoes in a large glass baking dish with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and chili powder to taste (I got a little heavier on the cumin and paprika – basically a solid dusting on top of the potatoes, which I then toss by hand).  Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring once, until tender.

While the potatoes are baking, toss your ribbons of cabbage and onion in a large bowl with the apple cider vinegar and the juice of 2-3 limes.  Coat the veggies well and let stand for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, then pour off most of the excess liquid.

Then add the cilantro, tomato and just a touch of salt and pepper (maybe a dash of chili powder?), toss again and let stand until time to serve.

Finally, when you only have about 7 minutes left on your sweet potatoes, drain most of the liquid from your black beans and heat them in a medium saucepan and medium-low heat.  Stir in lots of cumin and chili powder (if you like spice), pepper, a squeeze of lime, and as much salt as you need to brighten the beans.  I guess you could just buy regular salted black beans, but I like having more control over my seasoning…and my sodium intake.  Just keep tasting the beans, but keep in mind they’re also one of earthier “base” flavors of the dish, and they’ll be offset by the tangy slaw and spicy sriracha.

When your potatoes are done and your beans are heated through, put everything in serving bowls and toss a few tortillas on the stove or in the microwave.  Then assemble the tacos – sweet potatoes, beans, slaw – and top with slices of avocado and a drizzle of sriracha sauce.  Serve with a sweet, malty beer to offset the spiciness.  Sublime!

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Spicy Poached Egg Nest

Three posts in four days!  Apparently I am back in the kitchen with a vengeance.

I spent all day today snacking on chips and chocolate and swearing – swearing – that I am going to start being healthy tomorrow. But I mean it this time.  No, really…

To (sort of) make up for my junk food fest today, I decided to make something healthy and creative for dinner (because there is NOTHING healthy nor creative about packaged foods).  I was inspired by a recipe for field peas with kale and sweet potatoes I found in my awesome new Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home cookbook I got for Christmas.  What I came up with is pretty different from the original recipe, but the idea is still there: protein, kale and sweet potatoes cut by a spicy condiment.  Only mine is an egg poached in the kale, with a chili-yogurt sauce. Weird, I know, but delicious.

Spicy Poached Egg with Kale and Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • about 4 cups raw kale, torn
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili sauce
  • olive oil
  • sriracha
  • salt, pepper and paprika to taste
  • caramelized onions (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and chop the sweet potato, and toss in a baking dish with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the potato is tender.

In the meantime, remove the stems/ribs from your kale and tear or roughly chop until you have about 4 cups.  It’ll look like a lot but it’s only one serving!  Then again, I might love kale more than you.  Spray a large skillet or pan with olive oil cooking spray and add about a quarter cup of water.  Put the kale in the pan, cover with a lid and let it sautee/steam (is there a name for this cooking method?) for about 5 minutes, or until the leaves start to wilt.

Add a little salt, pepper and paprika and toss with the kale as it cooks.  When it’s beginning to wilt down, pile it in the middle of the pan and make a hole in the middle.  Crack an egg in this hole and cover again to poach the egg, about 5-7 minutes more.

Considering the kale and egg will only take 15 minutes tops, try to start this about halfway through your sweet potato cooking time if possible.  While the egg poaches, stir the yogurt and chili sauce (I used a store-bought sauce, or you can just use sriracha) together and add pepper and paprika if you want.  When the egg is done, use a large spatula to get under the whole nest and ease it onto a plate in one go.  It should hold together pretty easily.  Top with about half the sweet potatoes (you’ll have leftovers) and chili-yogurt sauce, plus some sriracha if you really like spice (and I do!).

I also garnished with a little caramelized onion jam, since the Moosewood recipe called for onions and I thought the sweetness might pair well with the earthy kale and spicy sauce.  I don’t know if the actual caramelized onion jam was my favorite, but some straightforward sauteed or caramelized onions or shallots might be good.

It’s a little off the wall, I know, but trust me, it’s really good.  The Moosewood cookbook might be my new favorite – so interesting, healthy and, clearly, inspirational!

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Bourbon Caramels

If you know me, you know I love two things: booze and sugar.  Actually I love more than these two things.  I love kittens and art history and swing dancing and Arrested Development, among others.  But booze and sugar rank pretty high up there.  Usually this takes the form of me trying some combination of beer and baked goods, but today it’s come to me (and you!) as bourbon and caramel.  Yum.

These candies are super easy to make, festive for the holidays and wonderfully delicious.  You can substitute a lot of different flavors if bourbon isn’t really your thing (which would beg the question, why on earth do you not like bourbon??) – try vanilla, orange extract and orange zest, maple, etc. etc.  As always, you should play and experiment!  But me, I like my bourbon.

Bourbon Caramels (adapted from Sophisticated Pie)

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons bourbon (or 1 teaspoon vanilla)
  • pecans to taste, toasted and chopped

Prepare an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish by lining it with thoroughly buttered parchment paper.

Mix the first six ingredients (all but the bourbon and nuts) in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until boiling, stirring frequently.  Once boiling, insert a candy thermometer and reduce the heat to medium.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 245 degrees.

I’d actually never made candy before this (though I’ve watched my mom make her ultra-secret peanut brittle for years), so I was surprised at how quickly the pot boiled and, subsequently, how long it took for the pot to reach 245 degrees (a temperature between soft ball and soft crack stage for candy).  Don’t be discouraged!  It’ll start out looking like this…

Then once it’s boiling it’ll be thin and really effervescent like boiling water…

But later, as the temperature nears what it’s supposed to be, it’ll become thicker and almost foamy looking.  I think it took me like 20 minutes to reach this stage.

When the thermometer reads 245 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and gently stir in your bourbon (or other flavoring) and nuts, if you want them in the caramel.  Make sure the temperature doesn’t get above 250 degrees, to keep the caramels really soft.  When your add-ins are incorporated, pour the caramel into your prepared dish.

I noticed that I didn’t have enough caramel to really fill the baking dish and still maintain a good thickness, so I simply lifted up one end of the parchment paper and kind of folded it where I wanted it to make my caramel about a half inch thick.  The butter made the caramel easy to move on the paper, and the stiffness of both the candy and the paper made it easy to adjust the size of my finished product.

This is where you’re supposed to sprinkle on your chopped nuts, if you so desire, but I found that even with very warm caramel the nuts ultimately didn’t stick very well.  You can remedy this by either mixing the nuts in the caramel or putting a layer down in the pan before you pour in the candy…or you can just make due.  You can also sprinkle more coarse salt onto the caramels if you want.

Let the candy set and cool for a couple hours before cutting.  I popped mine into the fridge for about a half hour to make it that much easier, then I used a sharp knife to cut bite-sized pieces.

It turns out wrapping the caramels was the most time-consuming part of this.  You can use parchment paper, wax paper, foil or plastic wrap, but I found none of these stayed closed very effectively on their own (even when I tried sealing the plastic wrap with a lighter…all I did was burn my fingers.  And actually I didn’t try foil, I didn’t think that’d be very attractive).  I found the best solution was to cut a small square of plastic wrap and put it inside a larger square of parchment paper, then twist the ends carefully and tightly in the direction of the fold.

Of course you could also just layer them between parchment paper in an airtight container, or dip them in chocolate (melted with a little bit of oil).  I liked the old-fashioned look of wrapped paper though.  And then you’re done!  You just made candy! They’ll keep for a few days on their own, and I’d tell you how to store them longer but they’ll probably be gone by then anyway.  Now don’t you feel fancy?

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Adventures in Partygoing: Spiced Nuts and Sweet Potato Falafel

The Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Party Season is upon us!  Time to don the sparkles and velvet, kiss under the mistletoe and get blitzed (Blitzened?) on hot toddies.  And, of course, make fancy-pants appetizers to impress your friends and family.

I’ve already given you a great party guest food idea here: goat cheese crostini served with fig compote or tomato bruschetta topping.  It’s fairly easy and a definite crowd pleaser.  But I’ve already made that for one of Christine’s parties, and I needed to try something new for the holidays.  Something savory and something sweet. The solution was spiced candied nuts and sweet potato “falafel”.

Actually, to be honest, the original solution was cookies and sweet potato falafel.  Except, as you may recall, Christine is gluten intolerant, so I tried to adapt a maple-spice cookie recipe to be gluten-free.  And guess what?  They were AWFUL.  I must not be adept enough at baking sans wheat, because all I could taste was the powdery, gritty, chemical-y flavors of xanthan gum and frankenflour.  I even tried overwhelming the cookies with a  ginger-and-cinnamon-laden glaze, to no reward.  Oh well.  They’re still in my freezer if anyone has a death wish and wants to eat them.

But thankfully spiced nuts are a pretty straightforward endeavor and I was able to recover my sweet-and-savory contributions.  I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen as an inspiration, but I adapted it pretty heavily.  And I really like what I came up with:

Spiced Nuts

  • 3/4 pound total of raw walnuts and pecans (half and half)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (plus an extra drizzle if you want!)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sugar
  • 2 heaping tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • dash of cayenne pepper

In a small bowl, blend your sugars and spices well.  See where I spilled the allspice all over my counter?  Also, secret: I didn’t have any cayenne, so I added a dash of chili powder instead.  I know it has garlic and other spices mixed in it, but it worked just fine.  Next, in a large bowl, whisk your egg white, water and maple syrup until frothy but not stiff.

Add your nuts to the egg mixture and stir until coated.  Then pour in the sugar and spice mixture and toss until well combined.

Spread on a foil-lined AND greased baking sheet (as in, grease or spray the foil) and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.  Stir once or twice; the coating will become light and foamy, but you still don’t want any nuts glued to your pan.  Stir them again when you take them out of the oven so they don’t adhere to the foil as they cool.  And there you have it!

For the next recipe, I didn’t play with it very much because I was so unfamiliar with the flavors.  Chickpea flour?  Coriander?  I’m pretty sure I’ve never cooked with coriander before in my life.  I got the recipe from 101 Cookbooks, and it turned out to be a winner just the way it is.  It’s also pretty healthy, with protein-rich garbanzo/chickpea flour and vitamin-heavy sweet potatoes, and it’s not fried like traditional falafel.  In fact it’s not much like traditional falafel at all, it’s more like a baked croquette of sorts.  Or something.  Anyway it was delicious.  The only thing I’d recommend changing is I’d serve it with spicy chipotle ketchup…maybe I’ll make these again for Christmas and try this recipe?

Baked Sweet Potato “Falafel”

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes*
  • scant cup of chickpea flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups fresh cilantro, chopped (it’ll be more like a cup once chopped)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2-1 teaspoon, I’d say)
  • olive oil
  • sesame seeds
*The original recipe only calls for two potatoes, but I got over two dozen 1-inch falafel with more potatoes, plus I think the chickpea flour would be too starchy and overwhelming with only two potatoes.

Peel your sweet potatoes and cut them in half lenghtwise (or, if they’re really big like that one in back, cut them in quarters).  Place cut-side up in a glass baking dish with about a  half inch of water in it, and rub the tops with olive oil.  Bake at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.  Once cooled (I ran mine under cold water to expedite the process), chop and place in a bowl for mashing.  Turn the oven down to 375.

I kind of ran the knife through the bowl and started a rough mash before I added the rest of the ingredients.  When you feel the potato pieces are small enough to mash, add the chickpea flour, garlic, cilantro, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, lemon and a splash of olive oil and mash all the ingredients together until pretty much smooth.

It took me a while, considering I don’t have a real potato masher so I was just using a fork, but eventually I got it to look something like this.  It’s okay if there are a few little chunks of potato left, just make sure you get the big pieces and all the ingredients are well incorporated.  Add a little more olive oil if the mixture seems dry.  Here is where 101 Cookbooks says to refrigerate the mixture to allow it to firm up, but I didn’t have to do that at all, so I started making the falafel right away (my mix was a little thicker than the consistency of mashed potatoes and not watery at all.  This might vary depending on the water content of your sweet potatoes, but this is why I think using less potatoes would make the chickpea flour overwhelming.)

Use two spoons to form the mixture into balls about one inch across, quenelle-style (or close to it – nothing’s perfect).  Place them on a greased baking sheet and sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until the tops look toasty and golden (my tops didn’t get too toasty but the falafel set and the bottoms were beginning to brown – still delicious).

Then…serve!  Everyone at the party loved them as is, but like I said, I think they’d be amazing with some homemade spicy chipotle ketchup.  I’ll post that recipe if I try it.  Fun fact: did you know chipotles are just smoked jalapenos?  I’ve gone almost my whole life thinking chipotles were a unique type of pepper.  You learn something new every day.

Keep learning, keep playing!

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So Much Quinoa

Do you have those meals that you really love to eat, but you would NEVER serve to someone else?  Maybe you like them because they’re healthy, or cheap, or easy, but they’re not pretty or fancy enough to give to guests.  I totally have those meals.  Most of them are some combination of quinoa and vegetables…I LOVE quinoa.  I guess I just really like big mixed up bowls of food.  When I was a kid I always cut up my broccoli and chicken (yes, chicken – I wasn’t always a vegetarian.  Just for the past 13 years) and mix them with my mashed potatoes.  You people who don’t like your food touching…you’re weird.

But I digress.  I’m going to tell you some of my favorite so-good-but-no-serve meals.  Most of them are big pots of veggies and proteins that you can make on Monday and eat for the rest of the work week.  They’re all super flexible ways to use up random vegetables in the fridge. Healthy, budget-friendly…totally not sexy.  Who cares?

Quinoa

My first post was about quinoa.  Quinoa is awesome because it’s easy to cook, really filling and a complete protein.  Boil two times as much vegetable stock or water as you have quinoa (so, for example, two cups of stock to one cup of dry quinoa); when the pot is boiling, reduce the heat and add the quinoa.  Simmer, covered, for 15-25 minutes depending on how much you’re making (basically until the liquid is absorbed).  So what  can you do with it?

Classic quinoa veggie salad: quinoa, plus garlic, onion, red pepper, carrots, zucchini or summer squash, spinach and cherry tomatoes.  Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, cumin and a little chili.

Southwestern quinoa: add onion, green and red peppers, canned adobo or jalapeno chilis, carrots, squash and black beans.  Season with salt, lime, cilantro and chili.

Autumn quinoa: I just made this tonight and it’s soooo good.  Roast a butternut squash, caramelize onions and mushrooms (see this caramelized onion jam for a starting point) and sautee spinach, garlic and fresh sage.  Mix and finish with salt and pepper and maybe a little oregano.

Vegetable Curry

This is the same principle as my quinoa: sautee some veggies, add to a pot and season.  Voila.  I like this with any combination of onions, red pepper, carrots, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, cauliflower (a must – sometimes I just make the cauliflower with curry sauce for lunch), green beans, peas and/or spinach.  When they’re done, add chickpeas to the pot and take off the heat.  Stir in a 6-ounce container of plain non-fat yogurt, along with copious amounts of curry and some pepper, salt, chili powder, cumin and cinnamon.  It’s best to let the flavors marry for a while – this dish tastes even better as leftovers.

Doctored-Up Soups

I kind of already touched on this one, but I really love to take a good can of soup and add whatever is about to go bad in my fridge.  Tomato soup, split pea, lentil, butternut squash…all of it is better with a little zucchini, onion or carrot tossed in.  And a super easy way to healthify your canned loveliness is to add leftover pumpkin or squash puree.  Spices are always good too, especially if you’re like me and you get low-sodium soups: chili, red pepper flakes, curry, basil, lots of pepper and maybe some paprika (my newest obsession with winter squash – and I don’t have any in my cupboard!).

Roasted…Anything

I like oven roasting.  I like my toaster oven because it’s perfect for single servings.  I roast everything with salt, pepper, olive oil and maybe garlic: cauliflower, tomatoes, broccoli, squash, you name it.  A perfect side dish, unless you’re like me and you consider a big plate of roasted broccoli to be dinner.  Hey, sometimes it happens.

Kale Salad

Kale is another one of those winning foods that’s really good for you and goes with anything.  Like any other veggie, sometimes I’ll sautee kale with some garlic and call it lunch.  But you can steam or sautee some kale and top it with anything, from caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes to cannelini beans and mushrooms.  Tracy from Shutterbean baked some with coconut! Croutons and parmesan make a light version of a caesar, while tofu and vegetables can give it a heartier twist.  Add apples, oranges or dried cranberries for a sweet fruit salad.  Top it with sweet chili sauce or sesame oil and soy for Asian flavor.  Do whatever.  Kale is a superfood.

And there are more.  Other salads, for instance.  Slaws (I have a really good honey-dijon dressing I put on everything in the summer).  But these are good, wintery dinner foods.  Just don’t let your roommate/friend/mother/boyfriend see you eat it.

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